There are plenty of big nonconference games for the non-AQs on 2011. So what are the top must-win games to help boost national profiles, cred and rankings? Read on to find out:
Boise State versus Georgia, Sept. 3. No brainer, right? No matter how much Boise State has accomplished, every nonconference game against a marquee opponent is a must-win. Georgia could very well be a Top 25 team when the season begins. The Bulldogs are not going to be ranked as highly as Virginia Tech last season, but they do come from the SEC, the mightiest conference in all land (according to anyone in the South who will be happy to tell you). A loss here, and the chances of making it to a BCS game fall to almost impossible.
Tulsa at Oklahoma, Sept. 3; Oklahoma State at Tulsa, Sept. 17. A win in either or both of these games would do wonders for a team that is third-fiddle in the state behind the two powers from the Big 12. This is Tulsa's most talented team in years, but the Golden Hurricane are saddled with a tough schedule. They also play Boise State on Sept. 24. A win in that game would not be nearly as big as a victory over the Sooners and/or Cowboys.
Fresno State at Nebraska, Sept. 10. If the Bulldogs want to get back on the map nationally and into the rankings once again, they are going to have to beat a high-profile nonconference opponent. They have had big wins in the past, but with a new quarterback in Derek Carr coming in and a new attitude, plus a future new conference, nothing says "we are back" like a win over a Nebraska team on the rise.
Nevada at Oregon, Sept. 10. What could make a bigger, badder, bolder statement than Nevada going into Eugene and upsetting a team that played for the national championship last season? Sure the Wolf Pack have a new starting duo in the backfield with Tyler Lantrip and Mike Ball, but they beat a Pac-12 team last season. Right, it was California. But hey, you never know.
Northern Illinois versus Wisconsin, Sept. 17. Another intriguing game here because of the coaching story lines: Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren was an assistant with the Badgers, and would love nothing more than to play a grind-it-out style. Of course, the Huskies have no starter at running back just yet with the departure of Chad Spann. Chandler Harnish will lead the way at quarterback. The Huskies have been known to beat Big Ten opponents, so Wisconsin better be on the lookout.
San Diego State at Michigan, Sept. 24. This one became even bigger when Brady Hoke left the Aztecs for the Wolverines at the end of the season. San Diego State had a turnaround season in 2010, but now the Aztecs have to show they were no fluke with a win against the Wolverines. They came close to making a statement at Missouri last season. But a win here would be even bigger and get them national attention to be sure.
TCU at SMU, Sept. 30. No doubt this is a must-win for the Mustangs, who played the Horned Frogs tough last season before losing 41-24. Coach June Jones envisions his program becoming the next TCU. In fact, he has downright said it. A win over its cross-town rival would do wonders toward making people believe.